How 'American Gods' On Starz Excludes American Gods

With mystery, wittiness and crude behavior, a new imaginative TV show American Gods takes us on a cross-country road trip to encounter what show creators consider the Gods of America.

“The Gods are great, but people are greater. For it is in their hearts that Gods are born and to their hearts that they return,” says the opening voiceover from episode five in season one of the drama series that airs on Starz network. The season two premier airs on Sunday, March 10.  

Neil Richard Gaiman, author of  American Gods

Neil Richard Gaiman, author of American Gods

The central tenet of the show is that a set of imaginary gods are people who feed on human belief. With the fear of being forgotten (death) the old Gods team up to wage a war on the new Gods.  As Charles Pulliam-Moore writes in Gizmodo, “there’s one god in particular who’s conspicuously missing from Neil Gaiman’s original book and most of the first season of Starz’s television adaptation: Jesus Christ.”

The show is based on the 2001 award-winning novel “American Gods” by Neil Gaiman. The book was adapted into a TV show in 2017 by creators Bryan Fuller and Michael Green. It landed nearly 1 million viewers for its pilot show last year, securing decent ratings. In season one, the show follows Shadow, an ex-con recently released from prison. Upon his release he meets Wednesday, a mysterious man that employs him as a bodyguard.

The Gods in the show are the driving characters. They are eccentric, each with their own flare but all selfish. Within the episodes most Gods have a coming to America origin story. Each God is brought to America from groups of people making their way to the new land.

Who are the Old Gods?

  • The first God introduced is Mr. Wednesday otherwise known as Odin, the God of war. Odin comes from Norse mythology. Odin’s origin story starts with Vikings sailing into the new land. Once on land, the men get an unruly welcome as one of their crew members is murdered. From there they beg for Odin to help get them back home. Following the God of War, they inflict self-harm, human sacrifice and ultimately slaughter each other to gain his attention.

  • Another god is Anansi. His story starts on a slave ship. The God of tricks and storytelling came with the slave trade of the African people. In African culture, Anansi can transform into a spider.

  • The 6’5-foot-tall red-haired leprechaun known as Mad Sweeney came to America with a girl named Essie MacGowan sent to the new land for punishment. She, even in her worst moments, stayed devoted to the traditions of Sweeny. The show hints he was an Irish king and hero by the name of Suibhne.

  • From Egyptian mythology we meet Jacquel, who is Anubis the God of the afterlife and Ibis who is Thoth, the God of scribes. These characters own a funeral parlor together, where Ibis is often writing and Jacquel is collecting the dead for the afterlife.

Who are the new Gods?

  • The new Gods consist of Media, Tech Boy, and Mr. World. It's no surprise that Media and Tech Boy have become so powerful with the world thriving on technology and social media.

‘American Gods’ series leads  #IanMcShane  and  #RickyWhittle

‘American Gods’ series leads #IanMcShane and #RickyWhittle

Each God we encounter sees humans as a means to an end. Human sacrifice is common. Praises are met with rewards and if not, disasters will bring them back to the Gods

We see the ultimate example of this in the season finale. Wednesday convinced Easter, otherwise known as Eostre the Goddess of spring to let the world know it's her, Easter, who brings spring. Wednesday tells her she must demand prayers go to her and not Jesus.

“Make them pray,” Wednesday says in the last episode of season one. “Let them remind themselves that it was a queen that gave them the harvest. They will be hungry, but they will turn to you and pray to Eostre. Once again, she withholds, and she returns. Prayer… rewards the ancient contract.”

Once a viewer knows who the main characters are in the show, two questions kept popping up for me, a viewer with a Christian belief: Where is Jesus? Where are the Native American Gods?

Perhaps Neil Gaiman thought that Native Americans traditions and cultures have faded because they were attacked and minimized in North America? Policies stripped the Native Americans from practicing their beliefs. In 1978 the American Indian Religious Freedom Act made it possible for them to practice again. So, with that context, it is very possible that their Gods died out in American Gods? But, then again, how many people in America talk about Odin?

In a Pew research study 70.6 percent of people in America are Christian. It would seem Jesus would be doing well and would need to be represented in such a show. However, American Gods barely mentions Jesus or other manifestations of the Christian concept of the Trinity. When the show does talk about Jesus it’s in annoyance or presents him as a child. Perhaps in future seasons that will change?

It’s unlikely given Gaiman’s novel. Charles Pulliam-Moore writing in Gizmodo makes a similar observation about the limited presence of Jesus Christ in the show. “In Gaiman’s 2001 novel, there are a handful of passing references to Jesus, but the character never makes an appearance or directly interacts with anyone. Soon after Wednesday first convinces Shadow that the gods they’ve been meeting are in fact gods, Wednesday casually describes Jesus as the lucky son of a virgin who “could fall into a cesspit and come up smelling like roses.” ‘

Perhaps Gaiman largely excluded Jesus from the novel because Christianity is seen as a dominant faith in America. Hollywood and other media sometimes like to nudge, prod, diminish and criticize the dominant faith, especially in a country where the First Amendment allows such portrayal. Or perhaps including Jesus in a farcical show would bring charges of sacrilege?

The first time we see Jesus is when a group of Mexican people cross the border in episode 6. As a man starts to drown, Jesus pulls the man from the water. The second appearance comes in the last episode, where we see different versions of Jesus at Easter’s house.

“Until the day that Jesus Christ crawled out of his stinky old grave, folks would paint eggs with dandelions for her (Easter),” Wednesday says, “To exchange as gifts at the first signs of spring in her name Eostre.”

After a few more exchanges between Easter and Wednesday, he states: “You do all the work. He gets all the prayers. It’s her day. You took it. You crucified her day. When they started following you, everybody else got burned.”

The few times Jesus is mentioned, it seems that Jesus is doing really well. He doesn't lack any prayers. So, why doesn't he have a bigger role?

In a Q&A interview with Nerdist, Gaiman makes it clear that this show is about immigrants. He states, “You're making a drama about immigration in a country built economically on the backs of people who were unwelcome, fleeing starvation, fleeing pogroms, fleeing bad things.”  

I enjoyed this show, but I will say I would have loved to see the creators incorporate Jesus, the biggest figure in American religion. It would have been great to see how they bring in a thriving Jesus into interactions of the other Gods. If the show is already being sacrilegious, they might as well go all out.

American Gods puts an interesting spin on the perceptions of Gods and the supernatural. As a hooked viewer I’m excited to see the next season in the series.

Season two of American God will premiere on the Starz network on March 10th.

Devon Sanceda (Devon.Sanceda@Starz.com)